As far as Harriman Gray knew, the mission was supposed to be simple.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff had their concerns about the station's commander, an officer by the name of Jeffrey Sinclair. Colonel Ben-Zion, traveling under the assumed name of "Aaron Franks" (and with an identicard to match, courtesy of Internal Affairs), was to pose as a senior representative of Quartermaster Corporation, one of several major civilian suppliers of EarthForce. Gray (traveling under his real identicard) would pose as a business teep working for QM. The colonel would pretend to seek a contract with EarthForce to supply the station, and along the way, he would ask questions about Sinclair. Gray would tag along, like any good business teep - and if he happened to notice any surface thoughts that pointed to something suspicious, he would report it to the colonel.
Simple, yes - but bizarre.
Why would IA send someone as high-ranking as the colonel? he wondered. And someone as easily recognized? The colonel was well-known, and had that distinguishing scar on his face.
Not that it was any of Gray's business, except there was very little chance the colonel wouldn't be recognized, and supposedly, he was "undercover."
Gray reminded himself that he was a telepath, and he wasn't supposed to raise questions, no matter how strange things got. So he faithfully tagged along. In EarthForce, he reminded himself, soldiers also followed orders, and didn't question them. He had his orders, even if not everything made sense.
The colonel rented them quarters next door to each other, in one of the more expensive sectors of the station. Then they sat down together and went over the list of station personnel. While some of the officers had a history of discipline or problems, there was nothing recent among any of the senior officers, and nothing major among any of them. And some officers, like the second in command - Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova - were spotless.
"If this is about Sinclair," Gray asked, "then why are we looking at everyone else?"
"They work with him. They may know something. Why? Is there anything you can't handle?"
"No," Gray said, "it's not that. It's just that her record is spotless." He pointed to the screen. "She's the model EarthForce officer. There's no reason to include her."
"That's not your decision," the colonel replied, a little testily, "and she will be included. Official personnel records don't tell the whole story. That's why you're here, Mr. Gray."
"Indeed, as you wish."
Unfortunately, when it came to inquiring discreetly, Colonel Ben-Zion was about as subtle as his eyepatch. He dragged Gray along to the Zocalo, found a cafe where some EarthForce personnel were eating lunch, and started bombarding them with random, intrusive questions. One by one, the soldiers told him to bug off.
The next day, he did the same thing.
And the third day. Still he persisted in this madness.
"How long have you been here, Officer Welch?"
"Since B5 went online."
"Do you like it?"
"It beats a kick in the teeth."
"And what about Commander Sinclair? Does he beat a kick in the teeth?"
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Aaron Franks, Quartermaster Corp. We hope to supply the station, and I'm trying to find things out."
"Yeah, well I'm trying to eat my lunch. Quietly."
"Sorry to bother you."
The colonel moved onto his next target, who picked up her meal and left after a few minutes.
"That guy back there," said Gray, "you know he's in security, right? And you're acting suspiciously."
"Did I ask you for your opinion, Mr. Gray?"
"Then stick a sock in it!"
All afternoon, the colonel went on asking random EarthForce personnel intrusive questions about Commander Sinclair, dragging Gray around like a puppy on a leash. None of the colonel's questions produced any information of value about the commander, though Gray did get a good idea of the culinary choices available on the station, which restaurants were very good, and which were better to avoid.
And though the colonel remained entirely oblivious to the disturbance he was causing, Gray could see what he could not - many of the soldiers he "interviewed" were concerned about the colonel's behavior, and at least one worried that he was an undercover arms smuggler. Earth Central had recently imposed an arms embargo on sales to Mars, Gray learned from the surface thoughts of a worried security officer - and security personnel had been instructed to be on high alert for smugglers passing through the station. Gray and the colonel had arrived from the jump point at LeGrange 2 - a stone's throw from Mars. If security went looking, Gray realized, they would find that he and the colonel had a suspicious background.
Gray was dismayed. Whatever the colonel was trying to accomplish, he'd learned nothing useful about Sinclair, and sooner or later, his ship would crash and burn.
"I'm suddenly not feeling well," Gray lied. "It's the large crowd in here... I'm just not used so many people, so many minds, so many alien minds in close proximity. Telepathy is temperamental like that. I'm going to go back to the room and lie down for a bit."
The colonel pursed his lips, annoyed, but let him go.
Gray took the time alone to think, but he still could make no sense of the mission. The only bright moment in his visit had been the short time he'd spent with the station's only telepath, a young blonde woman named Talia Winters. To be a telepath working among normals was always trying, but to be the only telepath on a station of 250,000... it was inconceivable.
When the colonel finally came back to the rooms, Gray had to tell him the difficult truth - they'd learned nothing of value about Sinclair, nothing whatsoever. Most of the people the colonel had "interviewed" had never even met Sinclair, let alone worked closely with him. If there was something amiss with Sinclair, he wasn't making it obvious to the troops.
"We've been here three days, randomly digging up holes, and finding nothing. Is it too much for me to ask why we're here?"
The colonel sighed and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Mr. Gray, the Joint Chiefs are very concerned about Commander Sinclair."
"You've said that before-"
"No. I haven't told you why. Sinclair is one of only a little more than two hundred survivors of the Battle of the Line. He ran a suicide mission at one of the Minbari warships, but they captured him instead, and brought him on-board. A day later, they released him, but his ship's computer had been wiped clean. No records of anything that happened in the ship. And Sinclair's mind, too. I've seen transcripts of the classified interviews he underwent after the war. He claims to have no memory of that day."
"You think the Minbari scanned him and erased his memories?"
"Not what I think, what the Joint Chiefs think. When the command for this station was under negotiation, the Minbari vetoed every candidate for the job until his name came up - way down the list, I might add. They refused to participate in the Babylon project unless he was in command of this station. Do you know why, Mr. Gray?"
Gray shook his head.
"Neither do I, and neither do the Joint Chiefs. That's why we're here."
"Then why not interview him directly? Sinclair?"
At just that moment, the door chime rang.
Gray looked up from his seat. "We've got company."